Friday, October 31, 2008

Working with your voice

Here's something I just wrote to someone recovering from spasmodic dysphonia and wanting to develop his vocal abilities. I suggested singing.
The three basic ranges in music are loud/soft, fast/slow, and high/low. The basic idea would be to find your absolute most comfortable place in each, work to more fully inhabit and project that sound, and then slowly, carefully increase the comfort zone in each of those ranges.

Another less obvious range in music making is gestural. An off-beat genius by the name of Manfred Clynes organized that range as the "sentic cylcle": no-emotion, anger, hate, grief, love, sexual desire, joy, and reverence. The idea would be to practice expressing a variety of feelings you'd like to be able to communicate by your manner of speaking/singing.

Remember that speech and music and dance can be seen as a continuum. Some easy rhythmic movement while speaking/singing might be beneficial.

Thursday, October 30, 2008


Googlebot has crawled the blog. Indexing has not yet happened, so the site is still unreachable via web search. Being just months away from my 60th birthday, I find all of this amazingly nifty, while wondering how it will affect young people growing up knowing only a wired world. The introduction of recorded music dramatically altered the culture of music making. Can't help wondering how massive interconnectivity will affect society in general and music making in particular.

Edited Posts

Since part of the motivation here is to improve my writing skills, I'm going back and editing previous posts all the time, mostly trying to make myself better understood, while letting the essential point of the post remain. If something requires a major overhaul, it might get deleted and come back in a different form. The post with the Finale file embedded has been deleted and reposted several times (and it still needs work).

Registered Music Therapist

While working as an attendant and group leader on locked psychiatric wards during my 20's, I became aware of music therapy and went back college (Shenandoah University) to get a B.A. in Music Therapy in 1980. After an internship at San Antonio State Hospital I became a Registered Music Therapist. That credential allowed me to work with emotionally disturbed students in the South San Antonio I.S.D., and that was the largest segment of my private practice in San Antonio as a music therapist from 1980 until 1993. Since then the credential has evolved into something requiring certification, testing, and regular inservice training. 

I went into the field in part because of the opportunity to be something of a pioneer. But it could be that I'm just an outlier. While there's an absolute need for a professional organization, when I read over the literature and the training options, a lot of what I see as possible in music therapy is not addressed. This blog is to look at some of those other forms music therapy might take, as well as being a compendium of various resources that might be helpful to folks interested in music therapy and/or simply wanting to advance their music making skills and opportunities.

So the url for this site, "", was chosen because that was the credential I worked so hard to get and is still how I self-identify. It's also to make clear that other than being a member of the AMTA, I have very little involvement with the professional music therapy establishment. In 2020 the credential RMT will be eliminated.


I've opened up a Facebook account, thinking it might be a useful adjunct to the blog. It could be another way of making sheet music samples available and/or maybe some mp3 files of the sheet music. It could also be a way of communicating with interested readers. I think we could use the Facebook site as a conversation area without having to deal with comment spam.

Community Music Therapy

One of the motivations behind this project is to make it easier for folks to share in music making in ways other than formal concerts.  There are a lot of amateur musicians who might enjoy making music with one another if there were music designed for the various combinations of instruments that might be available in any given group. There are also a lot of organizations that might enjoy having some live music from time to time (churches come to mind). Facilitating this sharing of making music would bring more music to more people, and as a music therapist, I feel that would be a benefit to the community.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Move the tongue with air

Start the sound of a note on a wind instrument by having the air push the tongue out of the way. Moving the tongue without the air flow behind it gives a weak attack and a thin, quavery tone. Maestro also often suggests a "da" rather than a "ta" tongue motion.


Dr. Robert Hamrick is currently volunteering as the director of the Orange Community Band. He played first trombone for the Pittsburgh Symphony under AndrĂ© Previn, has a freakishly good ear, and has a lifetime of experience teaching and directing various ensembles. His analysis of our playing and his clearly stated, and astonishingly on point, comments mean each rehearsal has at least a few master class moments. Since we are a wind ensemble with percussion, some comments relate directly to those instruments, while others can have a more general application. Posts with the "maestro" label are based on things he's said in rehearsal.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Sequential movement

When you're having trouble getting your fingers in the right places at the right time, the problem has sometimes begun a few notes beforehand. Pay full attention to your playing of the notes leading up to the problem area to see if you're starting to fall off the wagon before you get to the treacherous turns. 

Clearing up easy problems first puts you in a better position to take on the more difficult ones. The slightest mishandling of notes leading into a difficult passage means your technique is out of balance right when it most needs to be in the flow. That disequilibrium in your physical technique will amplify the difficulties of the problem passage.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Summer Is Icumin In

Acoustics for the performer

Byron Janis on the quirks of acoustics from the performer's point of view.
    Therefore the position of the piano on stage is of utmost importance --moving it only a foot in either direction can make an enormous difference in the sound and therefore in the performance. 

Athletic Music

    A piece from the WSJ going into the uses of music in athletics. Many athletes use music to help improve their physical performance. In the learning materials I'm developing, one of the ideas used in explaining the workings of music and music making is that there's a continuum from speech to music to dance, with there being a lot of overlap between speech and music and between music and dance.

     "Music and movement appear to have evolved together," according to Dr. Trainor. "There are multi-sensory connections between the auditory system and the movement systems"

     Dr. Solomon H. Snyder, chairman of the department of neuroscience at the Johns Hopkins Medical School in Baltimore, emphasizes that much remains to be learned in the field, but he acknowledges that music is "well known to involve the auditory part of the cerebral cortex, the temporal part of the cortex. And the temporal lobe of the brain is intimately linked to the limbic system, the major regulator of emotions." These emotions, he observes, include one's "readiness to perform."

Music and pain management

   Here's another BBC article on music therapy, this time used for chronic pain.
Researcher Dr Sandra Siedlecki, of the Cleveland Clinic Foundation, said: "Our results show that listening to music had a statistically significant effect on the two experimental groups, reducing pain, depression and disability and increasing feelings of power."


Acoustics have a lot to do with the effects of music (or just simple sound) on the listener. This is a link to an extreme example, Mayan ball courts. The structure was apparently built with sound effects in mind. The thing about acoustics is that providing for them in structures seems to be as much art as science. One often hears of new concert halls with poor acoustics and of older halls with wonderful acoustics. Part of the problem might be that with the advent of recorded music, people (including architects) are spending less time in concert halls, so they're naturally less familiar with what does and doesn't work.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Music therapy and schizophrenia

This very small study suggests music therapy might help treat schizophrenia. Therapists used music as a non-verbal communication technique.
"The researchers measured symptoms of schizophrenia and found that improvements were greater among those people receiving music therapy than among those receiving standard care alone."

Music Chills

A short item on the psysiological effects of music.
    "In recent studies, scientists found that people already familiar with the music are more likely to catch a chill at key moments:
     — When a symphony turns from loud to quiet
     — Upon entry of a solo voice or instrument
     — When two singers have contrasting voices"

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Music as medicine

Here's a BBC article about the benefits of live music in hospitals. I would love to know exactly why live music is more beneficial than recorded. Like so much of music therapy, it makes intuitive sense, but the underlying mechanism hasn't been empirically demonstrated.
"The physiological benefits have been measured. Music reduces blood pressure, the heart rate, and hormones related to stress."


This blog is a place for me to archive, organize and comment on collected links having to do with music and music therapy. I'll also be posting thoughts and drafts springing from the process of creating music learning materials.